UC Berkeley bolsters, improves campus safety efforts

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

UC Berkeley officials are making major changes to the way the campus handles sexual harassment claims, following the investigation of over a dozen cases that cast an unflattering spotlight on the elite campus last April.

The university’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination is also investing $2.5 million into strengthening its harassment prevention policies through the addition of three full-time investigators to the OPHD and at least a dozen other new positions in the Office of Student Conduct, Human Resources Department, CARE Advocates unit and the University Health Services department, according to a May 2 university press release.

This summer, Berkeley will facilitate in-person sexual harassment training for its academic and administrative staff, which will carry over into awareness and training programs for students, staff and faculty in the fall, however it is unclear what these will look like.

According to the May press release, several campus units will receive $300,000 in allocated funding for program and operational support, however, it is unclear where the money will come from and what the remaining funds will be used for.

UC Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination investigated 17 cases of sexual harassment that spanned five years.

They discovered that 11 of the accused staff members were fired, but none of the faculty members — esteemed lecturers and professors — received the same punishment. Instead, they either resigned or remained at Berkeley, protected by tenure.

The findings sparked a public outcry against the light handling of the cases, and on April 5, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced the formation of the Committee on Sexual Violence, Harassment and Assault.

The organization will examine and review cultural issues and recommend improvements for campus services and policies that prevent sexual harassment at UC Berkeley, according to a university Public Affairs press release.

Co-chairing the committee is dean of Social Sciences and executive dean of the College of Letters and Science, Carla Hesse, and interim executive vice chancellor and provost, Carol Christ, who replaced Claude Steele when he resigned last April.

The committee will release its findings in October, according to the Office of the Chancellor.

The most recent case of harassment was brought to light by 24-year-old Berkeley student Nicole Hemenway in May. Tenured assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies, Blake Wentworth, reportedly made repeated inappropriate comments and physical contact with her and at least seven other students, according to an article by The Guardian.

According to Senior Director of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs Janet Gilmore, the department chair reassigned all of Wentworth’s classes to other instructors. He is not currently teaching at UC Berkeley.

The Chancellor’s Task Force is investigating the case. Based on their findings, the case may be transferred to the Privilege and Tenure Committee, a group charged with issuing sanctions for disciplinary, grievance and early termination cases on campus.